TOKYO — Boxing, the bulwark of Philippine participation in the Games until Hidilyn Diaz came along and lifted weightlifting to golden heights, continued to enjoy a power-packed resurgence in the XXXII Olympiad Saturday even as pole vault cleared the bar while golf stumbled in the fairway.
No other fighter, so far, has defined boxing’s role in energizing the country’s most rewarding Olympic stint in 97 years as featherweight Nesthy Petecio.
The 5-foot-3 reigning world champion in her division pulled off a stirring comeback against 5-foot-8 Irma Testa of Italy in the 54-57kg semifinals to claim a 4-1 split decision, after dropping the first round, and gain a shot at a potential second gold medal for the nation.
Already assured of the silver, a first for boxing in the Olympics in 25 years after Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco took a similarly-colored medal in Atlanta in 1996, Petecio fights for the gold against a yet to be determined opponent on August 3 at the Kokugikan Arena, days after she and middleweight Eumir Felix Marcial watched transfixed on TV at the Athletes Village and whooped as Diaz won the country’s first Olympic gold medal in a non-demonstration sport in the 55kg weightlifting competition.
Making it to the Olympics was a promise fulfilled to her father, said Petecio. But going deeper into the medal round is something she wants for herself.
“Pangarap po ng tatay ko na makapasok sa national team. Kaya, hayun po, nagawa ko step-by-step,” said Petecio. “Sa kanya, gusto nya lang akong makatuntong sa Olympics; sa akin, pangarap kong magka-medal po.”
Though she dropped the first round in the cards of all five judges, a strategy that may have backfired had it not been for her resilience in the next two rounds, Petecio found no need for alarm.
“Hindi po ako na-down nong sinasabi sa’kin na lamang siya,” said Petecio. “Noong first round po kasi, sinunod ko lang po yung unang game plan na di muna pumasok,” said.
“Sinubukan namin, pero hindi talaga nag-click kasi ang haba talaga ng reach nya. Kita nyo naman po, kahit ako nagugulat sa haba ng reach nya.
“Tapos noong second round, sabi ni coach na hindi na kami pwedeng mag-stick sa ganoong laro, kailangan naming pumasok nang pumasok.
“Kaya noong mga sumunod na round, lagi po akong lumalapit, pinapasok ko po talaga sya. Kinukuha ko po sya sa speed, sa lakas ko, kasi alam ko na mas malakas ako sa kanya.”
While Petecio’s semifinal win proved the crowning glory of the day for boxing, Carlo Paalam’s tactical 5-0 win over Algeria’s Mohamed Flissi in the 48-52kg men’s flyweight Round of 16 earlier set up the 1-2 punch.
Standing in the way of Paalam and a shot at the bronze medal is the division’s top seed, 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics gold medalist Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan, who defeated Daniel David Varela de Pina Cape Verde 5-0 in the preceding Round of 16 bout.
Paalam, 23, from Carmen, Cagayan de Oro, a product of the government’s Palarang Pambansa program, will have his hands full against Zoirov, 28, also the champion in the 2019 World Championship at Yekaterinburg in Russia.
Don Abnett, the national team’s Australian training director doesn’t see Zoirov as invincible though.
“We’re confident, We watched Zoirov just outside the dressing room on our way out and we saw some holes in his style which Carlo could exploit,” said Abnett.
Not to be outdone by the boxers Saturday morning, pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena cleared 5.75 meters with plenty of room to spare to make it to the 12-man final at the National Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, August 3.
Obiena joined fellow qualifiers that include world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden, reigning Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, United States champion Chris Nilsen and 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist Renaud Lavillenie.
Obiena skipped the opening height of 5.30m by going directly to 5.50m, clearing it effortlessly. He also had little difficulty clearing 5.65m.
The 25-year-old Tondo native, however, encountered some challenges at 5.75m, failing to make the launch on his second try and just crossing under the bar for an automatic failed attempt.
But Obiena pulled his act together for a complete third attempt that vaulted him to the finals.
In the post-event interview, Obiena said he felt sluggish during the competition, which he found strange.
“I didn’t feel like myself until the bar moved at 5.75m at first attempt. Then I moved back to my coach, and I don’t want to be very negative about it,” he said.
The day’s success was dampened somewhat by events at the Kasumigaseki Country Club where Juvic Pagunsan battled inclement weather and some of the world’s top golfers.
The combination proved lethal on the third day of competition as Pagunsan, who opened the men’s individual stroke play at 5-under par, skidded down to a tie at 55th place after a round marred by five bogeys following a 5-under par 76.
Xander Schauffele of the United States will take a 14-under par lead to the gold medal round Sunday, with organizers praying for more favorable weather conditions than in the first two rounds.
Also on schedule Sunday for the Philippines is the slam-bang quarterfinal middleweight (69-75kg) bout between Eumir Felix Marcial and Arman Darchinyan of Armenia at 11:36 a.m. (Manila time)
Both are for a short period students of famed trainer Freddie Roach at his Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, and have similarly dabbled in professional boxing.